Hewlett Packard was founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in 1939. Classmates at Stanford University, the two started their business in a garage in Palo Alto under the mentorship of a professor, Frederick Terman. Their first product was an audio oscillator used by sound engineers. It was bought by Disney to develop their innovative Fantasound sound system installed in movie theatres for Fantasia.
In the first decade of its existence, Hewlett Packard developed products for a wide variety of industries—from agriculture to electronics. Eventually, they honed their focus on electronic testing and measurement devices. These included oscillators, voltmeters, signal generators, wave analyzers, and other equipment, known for being more precise and sturdy than competitors’ devices.
The founders, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, were known for an open management style later dubbed “management by walking around” that highlights personal involvement and high levels of autonomy allowed to individual workers. HP became known for setting objectives and allowing workers to develop their own practices for meeting those goals. They were also innovative in their “open door” management policy, creating managerial offices without doors to encourage communication with employees.
HP continued to produce and depend on measurement devices up until the 1990’s. In the 1960’s, they made their first foray into computers—by developing them for internal use. They started out buying microcomputing devices for its measurement instruments from Digital Equipment Corporation, but eventually decided that it would be more cost-effective to make the equipment they needed in-house. This led to the production of the HP 2100 and 1000 microcomputer series, which were sold commercially for over 20 years.
Hewlett Packard was one of the first to experiment with flex-time in one of its plants in Germany, where employees could come in late or leave early as long as they worked a set number of hours. In 1973, the company expanded the policy to apply at all of their facilities.
The company is widely acknowledged to have produced the first personal computer, the Hewlett Packard 3000, in 1968. Because it didn’t bear any resemblance to an IBM computer, HP’s marketing department decided to advertise it as a desktop calculator instead of a computer—so that detractors would not compare the two. The later 9100A was advertised as a “personal computer”—one of the first uses of the term.
Steve Wozniak, one of Apple’s co-founders, first designed the Apple 1 computer while an employee at HP. He was under a contract of first refusal with the company, and had to offer the computer to them. The company turned it down, preferring to focus on scientific and industrial markets rather than personal computing.
In the 1980’s, Hewlett Packard developed its first inkjet and laser printers for the consumer market. It also introduced all-in-one products that included printing, scanning, fax, and other capabilities, and these proved to be popular with both businesses and individuals.
The company changed direction in the 1990’s to target individual consumers instead of business and industrial markets. They expanded their line of computer products and peripherals, and spun all unrelated enterprises off into Agilent, a new subsidiary. It was an $8 billion company with over 30,000 employees, and it was also the largest public offering in the history of Silicon Valley.
HP has had a series of firsts as a company, including many innovations in hand-held calculators, the first light-emitting diodes (LED’s), and the first personal computer. They were also the first company listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average to appoint a woman as CEO. In 1999, the company tapped Carly Fiorina for the top spot. She championed HP’s successful merger with Compaq, often meeting with resistance from HP’s managerial board and clashing with Warren Hewlett, son of the founder. She stayed in the position until 2005.
Compaq was a developer of personal computers, and the merger gave Hewlett Packard an expanded product line in this area. It enabled the company to lay claim to a larger market share in the personal computing industry. Today, HP’s computers are sold under both HP and Compaq’s brand names.
In the 1980’s, the basement where HP started was named a historic location. HP’s innovations changed the face of the computer and electronics industries, and they are now one of the largest companies in the industry. With their long history of success and influence on computing technology, it is likely that they will continue to innovate for many years to come.